Starting Summer in the Paris of the Plains

May 26, 2012

Kansas City Here I Come

Friday was my 23rd commencement at Bartlesville High and I decided to launch my summer break by skipping town for Memorial Day weekend. But the forecast everywhere was in the 90s, too hot for a comfortable hike. So I decided a stroll in air conditioned environments was in order. My favorite nearby metropolis is Kansas City, so by noon on Saturday I was ensconced in McCormick and Schmick’s at Country Club Plaza, enjoying the decor as well as some fish and chips.

Country Club Plaza

Country Club Plaza (click image for slideshow)

I’m not much of a shopper anymore, but I love strolling the Plaza to view its many fountains and architectural elements. In the 1920s J.C. Nichols transformed this dumping ground with a hog farm and brickyard into a Spanish-themed suburban center.

The City of Fountains


As I strolled around I enjoyed a wall fountain with a playful child, a 300-year-old mermaid blowing her horn, one of the clock towers and then another, the beautiful Pomona, splendid building accents and encrustations, a cat wall fountain, and the tower of the Plaza Medical Building. A little girl was giving her brother a stroll in their stroller; I thought about asking for a ride myself, but decided there wasn’t room for both of us.

There was a wall mural of a ship, possibly the Santa Maria, and a larger wall mural of a bullfight, crafted in Seville, was near the replica of Seville’s Giralda Tower. I used the 20x zoom on my camera to focus in on one of its lilies. They toil not, neither do they spin, but these are in a vase, not a field.

The Neptune Fountain was running, including its horses’ noses – thank goodness the artist didn’t treat Neptune himself that way. Bacchus was still surrounded by nymphs and satyrs outside the Cheesecake Factory, which seems a suitable spot given the great vice of our age: gluttony.

Four Horsemen

The Mississippi Horseman

I walked over to the Seville Light, with its theatrical faces of varying expression, and then cooled off by the immense J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain with its four horsemen, representing four of the mightiest rivers of the world, sculpted by Henri Greber in 1910 and installed here in 1958. The ones for the Seine and Rhine have mermen attacking the horsemen, while the Volga has a bear attack and an alligator and Native American represent the Mississippi.

On my way back to the parking garage I passed a mother having a very quiet talk with her boy. Perhaps she was telling him how he would need to behave at our next stop, my favorite art museum.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Some of my most popular photos on Flickr are from my July 2010 visit at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, when I shot several of my favorite paintings and sculptures. So I took my camera along for this latest visit, although I could not use it in the temporary exhibit of exquisite furniture and art pieces from various world fairs. The most memorable piece was Morning Sea, a gorgeous Japanese screen by Hashio Kiyoshi, with waves created from 250 different shades of silk thread which shimmered as I paced back and forth in front of it, entranced.

Planets in My Head

Planets in My Head

In the Bloch Building’s regular exhibit I found a new piece, Planets in My Head, Physics, by Yinka Shonibare. I liked the girl figure gazing through a telescope, her head a celestial globe acknowledging our debt to the astronomers of the past.

In front of the entrance to the beautiful Nelson-Atkins building was a golf cart, used to transport handicapped guests down the long Bloch building to the temporary exhibit, transformed into a gilded cage. I decided to seek out some more favorite pieces in the permanent collection which I had not shot on my previous visit.

Gods and Men

Looking over Eros’s Shoulder

I found three brothers admiring the two Italian knights. I strode on past the Romans and then a 17th century German boxwood sculpture of Apollo and Daphne caught my eye, as did the expression on the face of the god Eros atop an ivory Pokal, or covered goblet, with Franz Hal’s Portrait of a Man lurking in the background.

A small scale replica of the equestrian statue Louis XIV as a Roman General by Girardon survives, although the original was predictably destroyed in the French Revolution. Saint Michael looks like a poof, but I did like the expressions on the downtrodden in Saint Michael Casting Down the Rebel Angels, a wood sculpture which reminds us that in the past sculptures were usually painted.

I took some more shots of Benzi’s copy of the Venus de Medici, which I had previously shot with a halo effect from a background light fixture. This time I showed more of her body, defeating her attempt at modesty and including an incongruous background mural. At her feet is a dolphin being ridden by her son Cupid.

The Guard

The Guard

Back in the Bloch gallery I had noticed that a real guard had replaced Duane Hanson’s fun Museum Guard. Well, I found him standing in another room, pondering the outside world. Meanwhile, a Pueblo clown by Roxanne Swentzell was pondering his hand. I won’t try to guess what either one was thinking.

I decided to include a close-up of Bingham’s portrait of Dr. Troost, a founder of Kansas City whose eponymous street seemed inescapable to my friend Carrie and to me on previous visits to the Paris of the Plains.

Asian Art

Funerary Urn Dragons

Then I went in search of Asian art, but a Chinese Portal Guardian gave me a queer look. I enjoyed looking at the album of 74 Chinese portrait heads, a mysterious 19th century collection using Western shading techniques which could have been a catalog book for a studio creating pictures of clients’ ancestors. One portrait in particular was quite handsome, especially after I used Photoshop to enhance the contrast of the faded image.

There were many more striking faces in the Asian art collection, including a Thai Standing Buddha and a Luohan Buddhist disciple, although another Head of a Luohan was plain ugly. One of the most popular of my Flickr photos is a portrait of the Guanyin Bodhisattva of the Southern Sea and I opted to shoot a more complete view of him from both angles and a close-up of his face.

The dragons on some juxtaposed funerary urns were quite fun, as was the tomb figure of a wrestler. And I like how the impressive Shiva Nataraja, The Dancing Lord, which is a highlight of the collection of art from India, is stamping out ignorance.

That concluded my interior shots for the day. I headed to the Rozzelle Court in the museum for a rich dessert and then braved the hot and muggy afternoon to view a totem pole. As usual, my visit to the Nelson-Atkins had been darn near perfect.

Union Station

Union Station

It was not yet evening, so I drove over to Crown Center and walked its shops, then took The Link, a series of skybridges, to Union Station. I had nice views of the Western Auto building along the way, although the air conditioning was out in part of the The Link, making it sweltering. The 850,000 square foot building, designed by Jarvis Hunt, was the second largest in the nation when it was built in 1914, but by the 1980s it was abandoned and neglected. Fully renovated from 1997-1999, it now houses a science museum and exhibit space, restaurants, and more.

This is a place where it pays to look up. The 95-foot-high ceiling in the Grand Hall has three 3,500 pound chandeliers, there is beautiful high stonework, and a 6-foot diameter clock. A colorful train mural livens up the steps leading down to the exhibit area, where I saw an exhibit of artifacts recovered from RMS Titanic. The respected Bob Ballard, who discovered the wreck, considers it a grave and is outraged over this sort of salvage, while those who profit by the salvage work argue they are preserving its legacy. Personally I’d rather see a recreation of parts of the ship and models of the wreck than exhumed bits and pieces, but I didn’t put my money where my mouth is, did I?

The station’s immense north waiting room was built out over the tracks with 16 gates and could hold thousands of people. Gate 16 unfortunately still has Bartlesville misspelled as Bartleville. The afternoon was waning as light filtered through the high flag. The days of train travelled have waned as well: AmTrak does operate out of the station, but uses only a tiny fraction of its space. So it seems symbolic to close with a lone woman in the great north hall…waiting.

Here’s a video montage from my day:

Click here for a slideshow from this day

Day 2 of Summer Break 2012: Pirates of Powell Gardens >

About Granger Meador

I enjoy day hikes, photography, podcasts, reading, web design, and technology. My wife Wendy and I work in the Bartlesville Public Schools in northeast Oklahoma, but this blog is outside the scope of our employment.
This entry was posted in art, photos, travel, video. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Starting Summer in the Paris of the Plains

  1. Pingback: Powell Gardens « MEADOR.ORG

  2. Tim Welch says:

    Mr. Meador, I moved to kansas city and am glad to see you enjoyed the cit’s wonderful fountains and the plaza. I loved looking at your photos of Powell gardens, I’ll have to go there with my Fiancee soon. Have you ever been to Loose park? It has a wonderful rose garden and beautiful walking trails. Also, northwest of Kansas City is a wonderful state park – Weston Bend State park. It boasts beautiful bluffs overlooking the Missouri river, and lush foilage. It’s adjacent to the small historic community of Weston founded in the 1840s, I believe. It’s reminiscent of a tiny version of Euraka Springs, minus the springs unfortunately. If you haven’t been, I’d recommend it on your next excursion to KC!

    –TIm Welch

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